Photo courtesy of Alyssa L. Miller
As someone who’s been an insomniac for many years, I understand just how important sleep is to all of our body’s functions. My mother tells me that I never slept easily, and, in fact, that I didn’t even sleep through the night until I was four years old. I remember her sitting at my bedside until I fell asleep well into my older childhood years, and I awoke frequently at night, requiring her help to feel tired enough to sleep again. When I did sleep, I was (and still am, periodically) plagued by vivid and disturbing dreams.
When I began to experience some significant health disturbances as an adult, I started looking deeper into my lifelong struggle with sleep and how it was possibly causing some real, serious problems. Not only does disordered sleep exacerbate chronic physical medical conditions, but it can also unleash the dreadful duo of depression and anxiety.
Have you struggled with a mood disorder on your road to happiness? If so, take a look at your sleep patterns.
For years, psychologists have debated the insomnia/depression connection. No one argued that they were related, but, much like the chicken or the egg, they couldn’t agree on which came first. Recent research points to the conclusion that disordered sleep eventually damages the nervous system, leading to a mix of behaviors and body chemistry that causes depression.
In a bizarre twist, insomnia is thought to be the body’s last ditch attempt at staving off an attack of depression that you aren’t even aware is approaching. Staying awake too long overstimulates the brain and releases a rush of serotonin and dopamine. Eventually, however, the brain reaches its capacity for self-stimulation, and this is when we crash and burn.
Being overly tired will suck the happiness right out of anyone and can cause problems with memory, thought processing, negotiating, and making good decisions. These are all skills that are crucial for our overall success and happiness in life!
If you have a messed up sleep clock like I do, it’s not something that you can magically cure, but since your happiness is your responsibility, take charge of your disordered sleep as much as you can. I now make a valiant effort to go to bed at the same time every night, even if I don’t want to, and I don’t allow myself to sleep in (too often) on the weekends. This helps keep my circadian rhythm more balanced.
At night, turn the temperature in your bedroom down further than you normally do, because an overheated body will wake up. Many sleep experts will tell you not to eat anything too close to bedtime, but I find that being hungry keeps me awake too. A healthy dinner and a small snack a few hours before bed usually works well.
If you haven’t already begun practicing mindfulness, now is the time. Progressive relaxation, a component of mindfulness, is a fantastic way to drift into sleep. In fact, being mindful in all areas of your life will lead to more restful sleep because you won’t be plagued by the worries you used to have.
Some other things that have helped me sleep better are: white noise, investing in a high quality mattress and pillow, room darkening shades, aromatherapy, wearing unrestrictive clothing, regular exercise, and reading.
If all else fails, remember that you have every right to see a doctor. As we’ve learned, insomnia is a serious matter if left unattended, and if professional help is what you need to get back on track, don’t hesitate to get it. Remember that taking charge of your journey to happiness sometimes means asking for help along the way.
Until next time - happy dreams, everyone.